Taking a Blogging Break

I’m working on a lot of great projects right now — so many, in fact, that I just don’t have much time to sit at my computer to write blog posts. Week after week, I have “write blog post” on my To Do list but there always seems to be so many things that take priority. So…. I’m going to take a break from blogging for a while. I hope you’ll consider reading my past posts to pick up some home design tips. If you have a specific question, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Thanks for your understanding!

Design Tips for a Step Down Room

Like its name suggests, a step down room is a room that is a step or two down from the main, first floor level of a home. A step down room might be created to provide a higher ceiling or to delineate a different space in a free-flowing floor plan. Family rooms, in particular, are often good candidates for the step down design.

While step down rooms are a great feature that add impact, the entrance to them can be tricky.  You don’t want people to make a grand entrance to the room by stumbling down the stairs because they weren’t prepared for the step down!

A few safety tips:

  • When possible, have at least one tread (preferably more) meaning you are taking at least two steps down into the room (typically 14 inches). A seven-inch transition isn’t significant enough to catch a person’s attention and may lead to stumbles.
  • The depth of the step on this step down should be at least 12 to 14 inches deep and the full width of the door opening. The large size helps increase awareness of the step.

In addition to safety, there are aesthetic issues as well. Don’t forget to consider:

  • The doorway – Will you case the opening or just leave it as a plaster (or drywall) wall? Will you add a door or have free-flowing space? Be sure to think through the desired look and feel of the transition to the step down space.
  • The sight lines – As you enter a step down room, the ceiling becomes more prominent because you are entering the room closer to it. You can add visual interest to the ceiling by using wood or bead board instead of traditional drywall or plaster. If you have enough room, you can also add beams. You can also re-frame the view by adding a header across the doorway that creates a more traditional view as you enter the room.

Wolfeboro step down room 2016


In the project shown above, occupants of the step down room have a clear view of other doorways. We added visual continuity by creating a header that is the same height as those other doorways. To make it more interesting, we built this header with an opening above. It creates a shelf, adds some detail, but still achieves the goal of making sure, as you step into the room, that you are not overwhelmed by an expanse of a white plaster ceiling.



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The Ins and Outs of Selecting Lattice

Lattice before renovation


lattice after renovation














Lattice is a great solution for screening around the base of a cottage or under a deck or porch. The open weave provides a light, casual look and lets air circulate freely. However, all lattice is not created equal. Lattice should be carefully selected because the scale, material and construction can make the difference between a polished look that enhances the exterior of your home versus a look that is more chaotic.

Like so many things in life these days, there are LOTS of choices! Here is what you should consider when selecting  lattice:


porch lattice


Look at your home’s exterior. If a lot is already going on, I suggest you go with a square pattern. I use this style most often (vs. a diamond pattern). Squares give a cleaner look and add a bit more style.

When budgets allow, I go with cedar lattice and then spray it with a stain. Cedar lattice holds up and looks great up close. If the low-maintenance of vinyl is appealing, there are some nice options that come in both squares and diamonds. Vinyl lattice typically comes in white and dark green (the two most frequently used colors), but many companies also make a line that can be painted. If you decide to go with vinyl, just make sure the lattice strips are not too thick or it won’t look good!

Size of Openings:
“Privacy” lattice has a tighter grid pattern; “classic” has larger openings. The right choice depends upon your preference. I use the “privacy” most often because I think it gives a nicer finished look.

Framed panels:
For a more finished look, lattice panels surrounded by a frame will feel neater and more styled.

Foundation color:
You can often see the gray concrete of the foundation through lattice. I like painting the foundation to camouflage the foundation and create a cleaner look. This is particularly important if the lattice is going in a location that you frequently see, such as under a front porch.

There’s a lot to think about! If you need some inspiration, take a look at lattice pictures on Houzz.com or give me a call!

Wentworth Style

Valuable Advice from Home Improvement Show Hosts

Wentworth Style

My friends all roll their eyes when I get on my soapbox about the unreality of reality home improvement shows. One of my biggest pet peeves is that many shows are completely unrealistic about pricing — at least for those of us living in New England. The price of everything involving home renovation — from the base price of the home, to materials and labor for improvements — is much, much higher than most shows lead you to believe. Yet despite the high cost of New England living, I would never leave. I love New England and feel that we live in one of the most amazing places in the country.

Anyway, I recently found myself actually agreeing with the stars of one reality show! Jonathan and Drew Scott, the stars of HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” “Property Brothers at Home,” “Buying & Selling,” and “Brother vs. Brother,”  wrote a book called “Dream Home” that was excerpted in the Boston Globe. The brothers summarize their dos and don’ts for renovations that give you the best return on investment and the most enjoyment and functionality in your home. You can read the article here.

Their summary of dos and don’ts are pretty much the same thing I tell each of my clients, but I would add one thing. Don’t forget the power of “three wows”! It is key to provide at least three special details or features that give your home personality and pizazz. Maybe it’s unique built-ins developed for a special spot, a distinctive finish that is planned from the start so it looks as if it is just meant to be there, or even a wall located to highlight a special piece of art and provide a stunning focal point.

So many of my clients say it is their “wows” that really make their house feel like home!

How to Choose Windows for Your Renovation

living room windows

Window selection is one of the most important decisions in a renovation. While all choices matter, windows have a huge impact on both the interior and exterior appearance of the entire house. They are also a big ticket item so you don’t want to make a mistake!

How do you choose the best windows for your renovation? Start by considering four things:

  1. Price: Almost every manufacturer has now developed a line of windows to meet a wide range of price points. Compare prices and warranties to begin to narrow down choices.
  2. Style: When you see a construction job that has windows you like, ask for the name of the manufacturer (You may also be able to get the name from the big stickers that stay on the windows until the job is done. Smart marketing on the window manufacturers part!). There are lots and lots of  style choices that will need to be made. Double hung or casement windows? Grids or not? And what grid configuration? Color of hardware? Color of stylized exterior clad?
  3. Material: What material do you want on the exterior? Metal clad? Vinyl clad? Wood? And what about the inside? If you are going with wood on the interior, do you want it unfinished, primed or pre-painted/stained?
  4. Regulations: What are the egress and building code requirements that will affect your window decisions?


Window selection can be overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

lake house windows1. Go big! Factor in the scale of the house, but every home can benefit from additional light and improved sight lines!

2. Be careful where you locate awning or casement windows. Both of these window styles swing out, so you want to avoid placing them close to walkways or on a deck when they will be in a traffic lane. If you have the space, I love awning windows because you can leave them open without worrying that rain will come in if it starts to sprinkle on a summer day. The water hits the window instead of the frame and is less likely to come into the house.

3. Go for quality if you must have grids instead of true divided lights. I know that grids set between the two pieces of glass make it much easier to wash windows. Just remember that there is an aesthetic trade-off. When light is on these windows, you see a single smooth pane of glass, rather than separate panes as in divided lights. If your windows have applied grids — meaning that they are attached to the outside of the glass — check the look of the filler spaces between the grids. If there are not spacers, it can look strange as you see light and space between the inside and exterior grids.

4. Match the windows to the style of your home. Make sure you are staying true to the house and not just following the trend of the moment. Remember half-round windows added above windows in spaces with cathedral ceilings? They started as a good detail, but then were overdone (and often used in the wrong application on the wrong house!). In the wrong setting, you can now point and say “hhhmmm…. 1980’s…”

Of course, budget is going to have a big impact on your choices. Often something has to give, but I try to encourage my clients to go with the right windows for the house, even if it means that we scrimp on something else. Windows are not a selection to “re-do later” and they can make or break the look of the home.  Try to go with the right windows from the start!

cottage windows

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Making the Most of Kitchen Corners

In many kitchens,  the corner is often that spot that gets under-utilized. Cabinet companies have developed better storage solutions for kitchen corners, but often I still have a problem how this space feels as you stand there facing it.

Working with a client this week, we looked at the proposed kitchen layout they were considering. The main cabinet run ended as the room transitioned to the dining area. The sink, stove and dishwasher were all on one wall, with the refrigerator under the staircase.

Instead, I redesigned the space to give you an “ell” to the kitchen. In doing so, this created:
• Additional counter space for stools on the other side as well as use as a buffet serving area;
• A corner sink that gave a more open feel while improving the sight line to adjacent living space;
• A new home for the refrigerator, freeing up space for a new pantry and saving on the cost of more cabinets;
• New pantry to be built under the stairs.

See below for the changes to the plan! This is about to be a really good kitchen!



Kitchen design plan that makes the most of kitchen corners

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The Beauty of Built-Ins

I incorporate built-ins in almost all of my projects because they are a great way to add space-saving function and visual interest. There are so many ways to use built-ins in every room! Here are just a few:

Living Rooms and Family Rooms — Shelves are a perfect way to store and showcase books, framed family photos, interesting souvenirs from travels and so much more!

living room built-in storage

Kitchens — Shelves are clearly great for storing cookbooks, but what about adding a lamp? Or a piece of artwork? Or using them to store serving platters and dishes?

kitchen built-in storage Wentworth Style

Mudrooms — Shelves and cubbies are a classic way to contain all the clutter that accumulates close to the door. Consider adding designated areas for outgoing mail, books on local hikes, or that all-important phone charging location!

built-in mudroom storage Wentworth Style

Bar Areas — Sure you could add more cabinetry, but open shelves on an accent wall or even in front of a window can be more interesting!

open bar and kitchen storage Wentworth Style

The key is to treat built-ins as a visual accent and extension of the room, rather than just as storage space. Consider drawing the eye by painting the back wall of a built-in with an accent color or covering it with beadboard or reclaimed wood. When you arrange items on the shelves, think about their visual impact. It takes time and a careful consideration to transform open shelves from mere storage to an inviting showcase. And don’t forget lighting! Accent lighting can transform your built-in from a dark corner to a work of art.

When you get it just right, built-ins can really make the room!

6 Essential Planning Steps for a Smooth Home Renovation

home renovation paint chips

One of the most important parts of any home renovation project is the front-end planning. The more planning done, the smoother the project goes. Clearly, the actual design for the renovation is vital, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Here are six other key steps to consider:

1. Build consensus

Many of my clients chuckle about this one, but I always start off a project by making sure that everyone is on the same page about the project. I give my clients “homework” to establish a list of priorities for the project. This is especially key when the client is a couple in which spouses have slightly different visions. This list establishes a shared and clearly outlined vision that serves as a crucial starting point for a successful project.

2. Start with the ideal

It is actually worth discussing “in a perfect world, here is what we’d like to do”. Starting from the ideal, we can establish a realistic job scope and consider whether tackling a job in phases will be the best way to achieve the desired results. Sometimes, the whole project can be done all at once in a manageable budget for the client. In other cases, some things need to wait. If a project is going to be completed in phases, it is important to determine what things should get done in phase 1 so that subsequent phases are doable (and won’t require undoing earlier work!).

3. Consider site work and infrastructure issues

Especially if space is being increased, it is important to review septic, well locations, utility lines and drainage during the planning stage to proactively address any issues. For waterfront properties, shoreline zoning can be a big consideration. Both state and town regulations are detailed and specific (and are vital in protecting our waterfronts!).

4. Share likes

Here’s where the fun kicks in! When I have my very first meeting with a client, I recommend they start collecting photos of things they like, if they have not done so already. After seeing a few images, I can usually tell exactly what attracts them in certain photos and I will have a good sense of their personal style. There are great tools to use online (such as Houzz.com) where you can create and save idea folders, or clients can go old school and simply rip out pages from magazine articles, ads or even home furnishings catalogs.

5. Write a “Project Story”

As we move to establishing actual budgets, I will write the “story” of everything that will be getting done. Again, this confirms everyone’s expectations and sets clear goals and objectives. Additional documents such as door and window schedules, finish specifications, lighting fixture summaries and even hardware lists are all organized. This keeps the job moving and insures that the finished project flows seamlessly (right down to something as small as the hardware on windows matching the door stops installed).

6. Get onto contractor schedules

Good construction teams are busy! As a result, getting the project team established as soon as possible is important. Early on, I start getting the right people on board for a project. In an ideal world, we then all work together to establish a target time line, beginning with the all-important start date. New England weather conditions need to be considered and, in the case of vacation properties in particular, we try to avoid disruptions when the owners would like use their special homes.
The planning process takes time but is absolutely essential to a smooth home renovation that completes on schedule and within budget. If you want to enhance your home, start planning now!

Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing

“Seeing” Your Home Renovation Before Construction

A client recently asked me a question that I hear often. She asked if I was surprised how her home renovation turned out. The good news is that the answer was “no”. My job is to see what a space can be and get it there. Although it is always a thrill to see the finished product, I love that it is what I “saw” all along!

In the planning stages, I create a base plan using CADD software. This base plan uses the dimensions and detail of the existing house, and is a great way to really get a sense of the current structure and what we are dealing with from a construction standpoint. From there, using the feedback from client meetings and the earlier development of goals and objectives for the project, I begin design.

The CADD drawings are a great tool for me, but clients love them as well! It enables everyone to actually see the changes that are being proposed and helps my clients understand why I am designing something a certain way or why I am recommending alterations in floor plan, exteriors and even building scale.

Here is an example of a computer-generated view of the addition that is wrapping up on a current project. The CADD view was done a year ago; the photo was taken 2 weeks ago. And there were no surprises!

Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing












Wolfeboro NH home renovation

I also like people to see “special views” inside the house. At the beginning of a project, I will ask a client if they have a special piece of furniture or artwork that they want to have in a certain room, and will factor that into plans. (Right now, on one of my projects, I think I have just solved where a baby grand piano will be going – with a great view of the outdoors as well!)

When I do interiors, I usually place furniture in rooms so people know what will fit or show them the answer to the always asked question:“Where will the TV go?”!

Below is an example of an interior view that was presented to the client more than a year before the “finished product” was complete. We even factored in paint colors early on, giving the clients time to think about the feel of the finished home well before final paint colors needed to be selected.

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodel Rendering

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodeling

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Our Wolfeboro Home Renovation Takes Shape

I’ve gotten a little behind in my chronicle of my own home renovation. July has been busy!

If you missed my previous posts, the short story is that my husband and I decided to live full-time in an historic house that we originally bought as a second home. An addition that was planned for some point in the future all of a sudden became a priority. We broke ground in late May. If you want to read more, check out these posts: Wolfeboro Historic Home Renovation Round 2 and Our Wolfeboro Home Renovation Begins!

So here we are in July and the addition is starting to take shape!

Wolfeboro NH historic home renovation

Huge kudos goes to Nick Lagannas and his crew (Carroll County Exteriors). These guys are skilled and meticulous… and, especially with a job like this, paying attention to every detail along the way is key.

Tying an addition into an old structure is always a challenge, but a tricky design has added to the fun. We needed to incorporate varied floor heights and elevations. The goal was to work with the existing grade, keep the addition in scale to the house and maintain the lines of a classic New England farmhouse — if you are familiar with the term “vernacular Vermont” architecture, my house is a great example, despite the fact that we are in New Hampshire.

The need for a two-car garage under the house drove the size of the space. On the main living floor, the family room has lots of light (and amazing views to the rear). The top floor was brought down as much as possible to incorporate a back staircase leading to the master bedroom and bath. By using lower knee walls and shed dormers, all of the roof ridges are lower than the existing house.

Rough plumbing and electric is underway…

Exterior roof trim is wrapping up and by the time I post this, the roof shingles and siding should be moving right along!

Thanks for sharing my renovation journey with me. If you’ve got any questions or comments, please use the “conversation” link below.

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